Elle Fanning stars in a heavyweight true crime series

Elle Fanning (left) plays Michelle Carter in The Girl from Plainville (Hulu)

Elle Fanning (left) plays Michelle Carter in The Girl from Plainville (Hulu)

Conrad Roy III, known to his family as “Coco,” was an 18-year-old from Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, who died by suicide in July 2014. After his death, it was learned that his girlfriend Michelle Carter, from nearby Plainville, had sent numerous text messages, phone calls, and emails to Roy encouraging him to kill himself. On her last call, she ordered him to get back into the truck that she had left in fear as it filled with carbon monoxide. In 2017, Carter was tried on a manslaughter charge for her role in Roy’s death, in what became a high-profile and precedent-setting court case.

The sad and complicated tragedy of Carter and Roy has already been told several times. There was a movie lifetime 2018 starring Bella Thorne and Austin P McKenzie, Conrad & Michelle: If Words Could Killand a documentary HBO of 2019, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter. There was also an article Esquire 2017 tactfully written by Jesse Barron, The Girl from Plainvillewhich inspired and informed this new adaptation of Hulu from writers Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus. While the sympathetic series stops short of forgiving Carter for the horrific crime for which she was ultimately convicted, it does offer a modicum of insight into how and why this teenage tragedy unfolded.

At the core of that achievement is Elle Fanning’s nuanced portrayal of Carter herself. Given its subject matter, it’s no wonder Fanning has less freedom to have fun than she does in her other TV series. Huluthe sharp historical comedy The Great. This performance needed to be more subtle and controlled, and Fanning is up to the task with his uncanny ability to portray Carter’s inner turmoil. She is a young woman who loses her balance in her own mind. In a chilling opening scene, she rehearses her pain alongside a scene of gleebefore breaking away with a sinister interpretation of Make You Feel My Love.

The rest of the cast lives up to Fanning’s masterclass, especially Colton Ryan, who imbues Roy with a deep and poignant sadness. Chloë Sevigny paints a heartbreaking portrait of grief as Lynn, Roy’s mother, especially as she struggles to come to terms with the fact that Roy has left suicide notes for Carter and her father, but not for her. On the other hand, Peter Gerety (Judge Daniel Phelan of TheWire) does a remarkable job as Roy’s distraught grandfather, and Cara Buono (Kelli Moltisanti’s The Sopranos) as Carter’s mother.

For the most part, the series – available in the UK later this year – interprets history squarely, though there are occasional touches of magical realism, such as a song-and-dance number set in Can’t Fight This Feeling REO Speedwagon, a nod to Carter’s continuing obsession with glee. A more controversial artistic choice is the decision to portray Carter and Roy’s numerous text conversations as if they were speaking face to face. These scenes are shot with a warm glow that suggests the two have created a fantasy version of the other, but the result is an impression of intimacy at odds with the facts of the case. Carter’s hundreds of messages telling Roy to kill himself were delivered not face-to-face, but from the disembodied distance of a phone screen.

If you want to talk to someone about the issues raised in “The Girl from Plainville”, you can contact the Samaritans helpline on 116 123. The helpline is free and open 24/7 of the year.

You can also contact Samaritans by emailing jo@samaritans.org. The average response time is 24 hours.

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